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Dilfer keeps his cool when game heats up

Trent Dilfer recorded his third fourth-quarter comeback in Sunday's 31-28 win over Indianapolis. But then, he is among the league's top passers with the game on the line this season.

Dilfer, whose 90.1 overall rating is fourth in the NFC, is the among the best in the NFC in fourth-quarter passing at 99.7. He has completed 45 of 80 passes (56.3 percent) for 575 yards with five TDs and no interceptions in the final quarter.

Minnesota's Brad Johnson (115.6) is the only full-time starter in the NFC rated higher than Dilfer in fourth-quarter efficiency; Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart (101.6) leads the AFC.

One reason for Dilfer's success is the Bucs have thrown more passes _ particularly on first down.

"Everybody has their speculations on why, and some of what I've read has been correct," Dilfer said. "I think I've kind of always been that way my whole life. I've played my best football when I've had to.

"It's easier for a quarterback to get on rhythm when you throw the ball more."

Sunday's game would seem to be proof of that. In the second half, Dilfer was 7-of-10 for 96 yards and a TD on first down. He attempted four passes on first down in the first half, completing one for 27 yards.

Dilfer also leads the NFL in third-down passing with a 107.3 rating.

NO PLACE LIKE DOME: How many times have you heard it? Don't play football indoors! But the Bucs suddenly love playing in domes, where they are 3-0.

It's the first time Tampa Bay has won three games indoors in a season.

"It really doesn't matter what's happened in the past here," coach Tony Dungy said. "We've established ourselves as a pretty good road team. We've already won some tough road games, and we've got to keep winning on the road to win our goals. I don't know much about what went on here in the past with playing indoors, but our team seems to do rather well in that setting."

ODDS AND ENDS: S Kenny Gant was inactive at Indianapolis to make room for TE John Davis, who was needed for depth because of the injury of TE Jackie Harris. LB Al Singleton was activated because Derrick Brooks (quad) was ailing.

RANKINGS: The Bucs rank 27th in total offense, 28th in passing. They are 17th in total defense, 20th versus the pass and fifth against the run.

QUOTABLE: Dungy on the win: "We've been in a little bit of a slump, no doubt about that. It'd been awhile since we tasted the win. Maybe it's a good sign that we're 6-3 and not satisfied with the way we're playing. I think before the season many people would've been happy with 6-3, and we like the fact we're still in the thick of things, but at the same time, we realize we have to play much better."

_ RICK STROUD

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